Does Canada have a current soccer identity?
This question has sparked much debate, over the last few months, within our countries soccer landscape. Unfortunately in my humble opinion it is safe to say that currently Canadian soccer has indeed lost its identity.
Over the last 15 years I have personally watched Canadian soccer plummet from a respectable ranking in the 40’s all the way to 122…Oh wait, we beat the reggae boys last week, maybe we will leap frog one or two of the war torn, post failed states, that currently look back at us and have a quiet laugh.
Nevertheless, leaving all numbers aside, it is a cold reality that today Canadian soccer is dearly lacking an identity, culture, style, and model of play. There are plethora of reasons why Canada is ranked where we are, but honestly a lack of identity and model of play is a huge reason why.
“It’s heartbreaking,” former national-team player Carlo Corazzin said of Canada’s ranking. “It’s really difficult for me to put it into words, but the best way I can say it is Canadian soccer has lost its identity. It’s so hard as an ex-national-team player … to see where they are now.” See article here.
As a coach the first thing you need to establish is a team culture. This is critical if you want to get the best out of your players and parents – see Will Cromack article on building a team culture here:
Did we ever have a soccer identity?
Yes, we actually did have a soccer identity and model of play. People easily forget that we almost made our second world cup in 1994. In fact at the time all Canada needed was to beat Mexico at home to qualify.
Under the guidance of Bob Lenarduzzi Canada went into their final group match against Mexico, in Toronto, needing only a win to win the group and thus qualify directly for the World Cup. Canada went up 1–0 on a goal credited to Alex Bunbury off a corner, but Mexico scored twice in the second half to win, 2–1. This crushing loss meant Canada finished second and advanced to an intercontinental play-off series where they needed to win two rounds to qualify for the USA 94 World Cup. In the playoff Canada went up against Oceania Football Confederation’s champions Australia. Canada won the first leg 2–1 in Edmonton. In the second leg Australia led by the same score line at the end of 90 minutes, thus sending the tie to extra time. Nothing was settled in the 30 mins of extra time so the game would be decided by penalty shootout. Long story short Australia won 4–1 to eliminate Canada from contention. So close, yet so far away.
So back to my original point, Canada had a distinct style established and model of play. The Canadians played a 4-4-2 system and essentially fielded their eight strongest defensive minded players. This left little Paul and big Bunbury to buzz around up top to try and sniff something out.
This was Canada’s model of play, it was our identity – Bobby knew we didn’t have the personal to keep the ball or play tiki taka football against the likes of Mexico – so we parked the proverbial bus. And guess what? It worked. It wasn’t the most adorable footy to watch but it was realistic. It was our identity. We were organized defensively and broke on the counter attack.
Former national team member Carlo Corazzin sums it up nicely, “Canadian soccer can’t say: ‘We want to play like Brazil or we want to play like Spain.’ The identity isn’t there. Should we get better technically and skill-wise? Absolutely. You should always learn from the best, but not at the expense of what a Canadian player is: hard work, heart, fitness, giving away nothing. A Canadian kid can’t grow up and be Brazilian. At the top level of soccer, I don’t think they’ve realized that in the last 15 years.”
Why don’t we have a soccer identity?
A) Our men’s national team seems to change its playing style with each new coach.
B) Coaches are primarily volunteers and don’t even know what an identity, style, or model of play is.
C) Our identity differs from team to team, club to club, province to province.
D) Disorganization and disunity in the Canadian soccer structure.
We don’t have a soccer identity because there hasn’t been one set in years. No one has put their foot down and said, “This is what Canadian soccer should look like; this is our model of play and every club across or country will play this way. We will all join together and collectively work towards this methodology.”
We don’t have a Canadian soccer identity because everyone is looking out for their own self-interests, the word Kantian comes to mind.
Furthermore, we will continue to lack an identity if we keep losing our top players to other countries. Let’s call it the Hargreaves Effect. See link: Canada actually is in the World cup for more info.
So what is Canada’s soccer identity today?
At our recent coaches’ boot room this question was posed and the overwhelming response was that the current Canadian soccer identity can be summed up in one word, “disorganized.”
So where do we go from here?
Canadian soccer desperately needs to establish some sort of model of play if we are going to reclaim our national footballing identity. A model of play is what you believe and we need to have a belief. As Nick Dasovic stated during our last coaches’ boot room, “A model of play limits the questions that players ask from the coach on the pitch and as a result the players can focus on the most important aspect of their game, which is individual brilliance. Having a model of play is an automation process, so the players don’t need to work on it.”
Canada is in a cycle of change, a vicious cycle of change. Usually during these periods you don’t get a lot of results. We first as a nation need to recognize what it is that makes us innately Canadian. We need to recognize these traits, formulate a plan, and rediscover what it is to be a Canadian footballer. These are the questions we will first need to answer in order to shape our model of play. If done correctly it will build a language within the team structure that allows the players to express themselves. But first a system needs to be put into place.
Play Better has specifically been designed to center on many ingrained traits, and problems, within our Canadian soccer culture. Whether it’s educating parents, educating coaches, creating a team culture, or developing individual or team techniques, the Play Better program strives to better our current sporting environment.
Better People, Better Players. Why not try something new and sign up your team today.
So what do you think?